News and Events

The CNN 10: Hacking College article highlights AMTEC’s effort to produce Multi-Skilled Technicians

Posted in: News and Events on September 26, 2014

By Todd Leopold, CNN.     Read the article on CNN.

THE PROBLEM
Skilled technicians are in demand in many industries that don’t require college degrees

THE SOLUTION
Apprenticeship programs that will train people for specific trades

TIP
Enroll at a community college, which offers two-year training programs

You know the college deal: Four years of schooling. A varied set of courses. Graduation. Job search.

But is that really the ONLY deal?

If you want to pursue a specific trade, there are other options, says Danine Tomlin.

Tomlin is executive director of the Automotive Manufacturing Technical Education Collaborative (AMTEC), a collaboration between members of the auto industry and more than three dozen community colleges in 18 states. The program is designed to train and improve students with an eye towards channeling them into manufacturing – and there are jobs available for those who fulfill the program’s requirements.

“The demand for a multi-skilled technician is needed in several of the trades,” she says.

It’s not just the heavy manufacturing epitomized by the auto business, either. Health care – a rapidly growing field, especially given the aging of the population and the need for improved services – has a number of businesses looking to [train and hire people] for such specialties as pharmacy technicians and elder care.

The food-and-beverage business needs people to oversee the making of products. The electrics, plumbing and climate-control industries all have a demand for well-trained workers. Many of these training programs are offered through community colleges, and some take just two years to complete.

In some ways these programs are throwbacks. Decades ago, established businesses and professionals would take on newcomers as apprentices, teaching them skills in classic on-the-job “earn and learn” arrangements. Though “apprenticeship” has a specific definition these days that includes requirements set by the U.S. Department of Labor, the model is still greatly successful in providing training and work for willing students.

Ironically, however, finding those students has been a challenge, says Tim McGhee, dean of the engineering technical division at Chattanooga State Community College in Tennessee. The college has a partnership with Volkswagen called the Volkswagen Academy, where students balance five semesters of academic training with four semesters of paid, on-the-job training, according to its website.

In a national environment that prizes the four-year baccalaureate degree, the idea of a trade school, community college or apprenticeship has been a hard sell, McGhee says.

“That’s an embedded stigma in this country and we’ll always be fighting that,” he says.

Nevertheless, the training is tremendously flexible, he says. The Volkswagen Academy’s “automation mechatronics” training, which combines electrical and mechanical skills, “would transfer to 99% of any manufacturing plant in this country,” says McGhee.

“At the end of the day, you’re going to have pumps, dials, motors, controls, electronics, automation that has to be maintained, repaired and programmed, and these folks can do that anywhere.”

Like the four-year university setting, apprenticeships and community colleges aren’t for everybody. It helps to have a specific career goal, and applicants often have to be willing to start working right away.

But if you’ve got that focus, it might be the way to go.

“Most of my friends don’t have a clue about their futures,” says one AMTEC student. “I do.”